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Hinterland Day 2

by Sarah Poultney

Day 2 of Hinterland Music Festival switched it up from alternative jams and confetti cannons to a lineup of country and bluegrass that soothes the midwestern soul (though the alternative, of course, manages to sneak its way in).

The day started with a warm good morning from Des Moines-based Adam Bruce and his earnest “Prairie Soul.” Bruce currently sings alongside his wife, April Lynn, who harmonizes with him perfectly.

Following the husband and wife act was the playful sound of The Maytags, featuring the dance moves of lead singer Dustin Smith. Smith danced across the stage energetically throughout the set, leaning down to engage with the audience and wiggling his hips. The Maytags are yet another Iowa-based group whose modern take on the sound of soul comes with a brilliant vibrancy.

John Moreland took the stage rather unceremoniously, though that seems to be a part of his charm. He and his singular bandmate with harmonica and guitar took a seat in chairs positioned right up by the edge of the stage. Moreland’s voice joined the day’s parade of gorgeous gravelly voices with a performance that feels as if it were sung around a campfire, among friends.

Ron Gallo pulled the audience back from their Moreland-induced calm to a realm of quirky alternative tunes, accompanied by equally quirky outfits. The stylish beach-bum look of the band fits perfectly with songs that would be best played on a drive down the California shoreline. Gallo’s vocals are at times somewhat reminiscent of a B-52’s song. Mix this with the intentional mumbles, conversations between band members mid-song, the drummer’s Nicholas Cage print shirt come together to create a uniquely Ron Gallo experience.

The Dead South came as a matching set in crisp white button-ups and black pants, hats and overalls added to the bluegrass feel they aimed to achieve. Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about the four-man group’s musical fixings is that they hail from Canada, arguably the polar opposite of their namesake. The group’s songs about days of coal mining and more, combined with the booming rhythms of their work transported the audience into the lives of the “simple” country folk they speak of.

Also there from Saskatchewan, Canada was Colter Wall, whose second album sought to speak to the audience about his love of his home. As soon as Colter’s voice hit the festival’s ears, an uncanny similarity to the stylings of Johnny Cash gave some chills.

The Wood Brothers brought their blend of folk, blues, gospel, and jazz to the stage with upbeat energy, despite stoic faces. The lightness of their song “Sparkling Wine” brought a smile to their faces, coupled with the high energy of the audience reaction.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones needs no introduction other than the on-brand dramatic one they provided themselves. Lead singer Pete Janeway’s voice rang out across the stage before the band even appeared on stage, the audience practically howling in anticipation. Janeway’s presence nearly overpowered the three-piece brass section behind him. He whirled around his glittering cape, sliding the mic stand between his legs flirtatiously in conversation with the crowd. The dazzling Alabama-born gospel singer at one point came into the crowd, mounting the camera tower to gaze at a captive audience. St. Paul raised his hands in praise to the unseen force of the music.

Jason Isbell opened up the final set featuring his band the 400 Unit to uproarious applause, a giant logo in the background flashing red and blue as fog streamed over the stage. Isbell sang about a range of topics from small-town upbringings to a whole range of other clumsy human experiences. He noted that he wasn’t sure “what it says about me as a parent and me as a songwriter” that his three-year-old daughter was totally infatuated with a song about anxiety. The band sent Hinterlanders off into the night buzzing with energy.